Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Vizag | Andhra Pradesh
This is a story of fisherfolks, particularly in Vizag Chintapalli area. When I went to my Aunt’s place for Diwali (Indian Festival) to Vizag in October 2019, I randomly talked with the fisherfolks and their families on the way. I got to know that their kids, though done with education, are not getting jobs due to their socio-economic circumstances. This is a long-form article on these fishers and their daily lives.
It was a sweltering and sunny Sunday afternoon in October 2019. I went to Vizag city to visit my Aunt for the Diwali festival. On the way to Vizag from Vijayawada city, I asked my driver to stop the car at Chintapalli, a town in Visakhapatnam district in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh. As we stopped at the beach, though in the scorching afternoon sun, my cousin and I could only witness a bunch of fishers sweating and struggling to sell their fishes for a reasonable price.
Looking at them, the only thing I could remember at that time is The Old Man and the Sea, a short novel written by the American author Ernest Hemingway in 1951 in Cuba. As one of his most famous works, it tells the story of Santiago, an ageing Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant Marlin (Fish) far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. The novel tells the story of a battle between an ageing, experienced fisherman, Santiago, and a giant Marlin and how he succeeds in killing it and bringing it back to the shore! The story of the novel opens with the old man Santiago having gone 84 days without catching a fish, and now seen as “Salao” (the worst form of unluckiness).
This novel about a fisherman is one of my all-time favourites, and I don’t know why! That’s when it struck me; to go and talk with the fisherfolks and know about their lives.
Before we go any further, people from fishing communities from both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (States in South India) are called Matsyakarulu. We can see a lot of them in Vizag because, Vizag or Visakhapatnam is a port city and industrial centre in Andhra Pradesh, on the Bay of Bengal. It’s known for its many beaches and tribal communities. Visakhapatnam has a tribal population of almost 15% out of its total population.
Matsyakarulu classification comes under Besta and Mutrasi, both traditional fisherfolk Castes in Andhra Pradesh. They come under OBC (Other Backward Class) category. In The Hindu dated March 14, 2018, there is an article on how tribal youth protested against the proposal to include Boyas (Hunting Caste) and Matsyakarulu in the ST (Scheduled Tribes) list. The main reason as stated in the article by The Hindu is that “While the total population of STs in the state was 27.45 lakh, the two above mentioned castes alone account for a population of over one crore. This would mean that the two castes would corner all the benefits at the cost of STs.”
This reasoning made it clear when a woman trying to sell fish told me that her son, though completed his diploma, is not able to find a decent job. She says, “We don’t know any other work than fishing and hunting. Our kids, on the other hand, studying for a better living, can’t do this work and at the same time aren’t able to find a job as promised by the government!”
There are no exceptions. Everyone in the family has to work. Their average daily wage is not more than 300 rupees after all the preparations to fish the next day. This income isn’t sufficient in a household of 3-4. This inadequate income and relatively high level of expenditure further cause problems like lack of finance, lack of storage facilities and lack of ice-plants to store the fish and lack of awareness of market information and like.
From the above dilemma, one can by now understand that the lack of availability of other and alternative profitable occupation for them is the main reason why they are stuck with their age-old profession.
When asked a woman about her and her family, she said “We stopped worrying for our husbands who go into the sea. Because for a fact we already know that the sea is unpredictable! That’s why even we work!”
On the other hand, educated youth from these families are reluctant to go back to this occupation. According to an article in International Collective in Support of Fish Workers’ (ICSF) website, from the “Macro survey of 191 villages taken up of Visakhapatnam Regional Chapter of National Maritime Foundation” reveals that the un-employability of educated youth among fishing communities is high. Several measures should be taken to bring the younger generation back to work on their natural expertise.
The youth is not willing to work on fishing as their family did. Instead, they are looking for other employments like driving, construction works and more. This article thus goes on to suggest that, if “Natural marine endurance of this youth used for the marine-related activity for technology-loaded fishing, shipping, offshore drilling or by the Navy, Merchant Navy etc.”, we can protect both the traditional fishing communities and their economic interests.
The younger generation took it on. But what about the people and families who are working solely on this occupation? We can’t ask the fisherfolks to stop fishing altogether. There must be alternate arrangements made to create economic growth in the fishing sector substantially.
If people like M. Tatarao (picture below) could spend their time productively instead spending almost 8 hours stitching fishnet, that’s a good improvement already. Even after ten people sharing 1,500 rupees from one boat’s fishes, they are still up for the next day. Not because they are contented. But because they have no other choice or improvised options in what they do already!
“Preparing for the Sea”- One that keeps them going.
From Right: “Either we sell them or eat them. We know nothing other than this profession” - Anonymous.
(All the names, quotes and photographs used in the article are used with due permission, and the individuals are okay with it if it's published.)